Alusine Jalloh and Toyin Falola (Eds), Black Business and Economic Power

Article excerpt

Thus far, the study of African business and that of African American business have developed as separate fields. This edited collection contains papers from a conference that brought these fields of study together around the theme of black business in Africa and the United States. The twenty-two papers cover a very broad geographical and chronological area: Africa and the United States, from the fifteenth to the twenty-first century. Although most of the contributors approach their topic from an historical perspective, the papers do not have a shared agenda or a common approach to the subject. I found this to some extent surprising: I had expected the papers to focus more explicitly on empowerment, considering the title and the emphasis in much current business history.

The book is divided into three parts. The fourteen papers on African business make up the first two. Part one, 'African business and world trade', contains four papers on pre-colonial West African business. These include an excellent essay by Inikori, which uses a wide range of primary material to discuss the impact of the slave trade on African entrepreneurship in southeastern Nigeria. Austin's historiographical analysis of West African business in the nineteenth century is especially useful in identifying new questions for research. Part two, 'The modernisation of African business', deals with the colonial and post-colonial periods,

and, in addition to papers on West Africa, includes some contributions on other parts of Africa. The essays in this section cover a wide range, from specific business issues such as banking, credit and management, to the impact of more general variables such as gender, colonialism, and the post-colonial state. Of these essays, Taylor's comparison of Zimbabwe and South Africa is particularly interesting, as it specifically and systematically deals with strategies to achieve black economic empowerment. Finally, part three deals with African American business. Of the eight papers in this section, five cover black business in the United States during the twentieth century, while three explore connections and comparisons of African American business with Africa, especially South Africa.

Many of the papers included in this book are very valuable. However, what do these very diverse essays gain from being grouped together as dealing with 'black business'? Does 'black business' define a helpful field of analysis? Is there a shared black business culture? Some of the contributors focusing on African business (such as Jalloh, Wariboko and Fyle) seem to point in this direction, but this is not met by similar analyses of African American business. In fact, House in the first of her contributions explicitly refutes this hypothesis (p. …